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After over a year, the wait is finally over. We finally know something about Google’s phone OS aka Android. We still don’t know that much, but we at least know enough to find some really interesting alliances and rivalries brewing. As well as making some guesses about an interesting OS future.
We still know very little about the Android itself. We know it’s open source, Linux (but what isn’t these days?), and includes a base layer compatible with modern cellular networks and modern internet technologies as well as core applications. By providing the underpinnings and a new OS, Google is competing with Symbian (and its S60 / UIQ interfaces), Microsoft, Palm and others who create mobile operating systems. Some of these companies are more threatened by Google than others.
When we take a look at the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) partners – the people who have agreed to work with Google on this project – we see some interesting members and some interesting absentees.
It is not surprising that Nokia is not on the list. As the developer and champion of S60, Nokia already believes it has an open OS that carriers and developers can customize. Why would they want to join Google when they already have the dominant smartphone (by marketshare)? What is interesting is that I suspect Nokia finally feels threatened by an alternative operating system. I say this because ST Microelectronics (STM), Nokia’s big chip partner and a company that Nokia has supported in many ways, is the only major chip manufacturer absent from the OHA.
The Symbian vs. Android battle may also explain Sony Ericsson’s absence from the OHA as well. Sony Ericsson is the primary investor in UIQ, the other Symbian based environment. Though we’ve been hearing that Sony Ericsson are at least investigating additional OSes and so it possible they aren’t as vehemently against Android as Nokia. UIQ has a tiny portion of the OS market share so SE probably isn’t quite as committed to it and it’s unlikely with such a small market share that Android would hurt UIQ sales that much.
This Symbian vs. Android split becomes more interesting when we look at who chose to join the OHA. Motorola’s membership isn’t that interesting. Motorola is in limbo and they are trying out every OS and platform out there hoping if they throw enough spaghetti at the wall, something will stick. No, what’s interesting is that DoCoMo and KDDI are part of the OHA. Fujitsu and a few other Japanese manufacturers have been using Symbian to create phones for these carriers. Both of the Japanese giants have talked about Linux in the past, but neither really did much. But if both these carriers are committed to Android, Symbian could lose the only partner it added after the originals – Nokia and Sony Ericsson.
I do not think the absence of Palm and RIM are shocking or important. Palm is putting all its eggs in its own Linux basket and unless that basket looks like a bright, revolutionary future, they will have dug themselves a grave too deep to get out of. RIM too has all its eggs in one basket, but currently that is a more successful basket and will carry them through at least the next few years. But below i explain why i don’t think that will guarantee RIM’s success far into the future.
Though a rivalry between Symbian and Android is shaping up, there will be none between Microsoft and Android. When we look at the handset and carrier partners in the OHA, every one except KDDI is a Windows Mobile partner. HTC, who until today only worked with Microsoft will be producing Android handsets. Samsung, LG and Motorola all create very successful Windows Mobile devices too. T-Mobile has worked very close with Microsoft and many of the other carriers have long standing relationships with Redmond as well.
I do not believe these carriers and manufacturers are looking to replace Windows Mobile with Android. I believe these carriers are looking to add Google to their list of services they build phones for. Here’s what I strongly believe is going to happen, and why i think Symbian is far more threatened by this move than Microsoft.
I’ve been talking to alot of people lately who live their entire online lives inside a browser. They don’t use desktop mail. They don’t use a desktop RSS reader. (many do use desktop IM clients, if they IM, but this is sooo easily remedied.) Each of these people has a primary platform of choice – Gmail and Google apps, Microsoft Hotmail or Exchange, Yahoo! mail and some combination of other applications, or even just Facebook.
Talking to another friend doing research, he’s learning that not only do teens and young 20 year olds live their lives inside the browser, they don’t even want to download applications. Requiring a download is total non-starter for this generation. These people are also the most mobile-centric of any generation so far and they want access to the same data and applications they have on their desktop browser on their phones. Only a browser model doesn’t work so well for doing things on the phone (even in amazing browsers like the one on the iPhone).
Google and Microsoft have figured this out. Their platforms bring the desktop, desktop browser and the mobile device together. Data is synced and shared between all 3 and feel familiar between the three (or at least i’m assuming they will once we see what Android looks like). Although people are not loyal to a any carrier or handset manufacturer (especially in this day of WLNP), they are loyal to online service providers. their email address and the apps they use online are as much a part of them as their phone number is. The new gOS desktops for Walmart reinforce this on a desktop level. Google is approaching this from all devices the same way Microsoft is.
Nokia has taken the opposite approach by announcing Ovi. Instead of aligning themselves with one online platform, Ovi allows Nokia or websites to align themselves with Nokia phones. in cultures like japan where many young users barely ever use a PC outside of work, this would be appropriate, but i don’t think this phone-centric view works in the west, where desktop platforms are what users make an effort to choose and associate themselves with.
i think if we look out a few years, we will see young people in the west choosing phones by what desktop platform it is associated with – google, microsoft, apple, even facebook if they continue to grow. (aol has jumped the shark and i fear yahoo! is a non-starter.) you will by a phone to match your online life because that will allow you to access all the things you do no matter what device is available.
Reuters has collected reactions from all these parties, and i think that what each says only reinforces my predictions. Microsoft says “we already do this,” and they do. Nokia, is overly confident of their market dominance and doesn’t see Android as a threat. while UIQ, which doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on, can only say more competition can only help. Reuters too ignores Palm and RIM in their follow up.
I stopped into iPhone Dev Camp today. I walked in and was shocked to see hundreds of developers staring intensely at their laptops. I honestly didn’t expect so many people, but this is the bay area, and so it is Apple’s and Web 2.0’s home turf. Most the people in attendance had iPhones, but they didn’t seem to be using them. You could tell these were the type of people who generally don’t leave the house without their laptop. They also, for the most part, were not mobile developers.
The mobile interface and development world is small enough that everyone in it knows or at least recognizes each other, especially when it comes to online and not Java development… and i did not recognize a single soul in the place. so I went out to the organizers are expressed my shock at how into their laptops everyone was – both because this was the first dev camp i’ve ever attended (i often attend “bar camps” but those are much more social, even though they involve no bars.), and because everyone seemed much more interested in their laptops and full computer sized applications than mobile applications.
And that’s when the organizers stunned me. they weren’t surprised by the computer-centric makeup of the crowd at all, because the organizers didn’t consider an iPhone a mobile device. “It’s not a mobile device,” one said, “it’s more of a really powerful browser in a small computer.” And that view seems to be the one shared by most the attendees. I went back around and checked on the types of applications these folks were working on. They weren’t mobile centric. They didn’t consider the on the go nature of the iPhone or the fact that mobile UIs usually call for less information and less input. They were trying to squeeze full desktop applications or full desktop websites into the phone. The preliminary results were appalling in many cases. (but they were preliminary!)
But not all web developers are looking at the iPhone like it’s a MacBook mini. I was browsing the iPhone Application List and came across MoviesApp. It is, I would say, my dream movie times application. It considers all the capabilities of the iPhone so it integrates with the media aspects of the iPhone, Google Maps and more. And it also requires a minimum of input and clicks to get the information you want, formatted exactly how you would expect on your iPhone. I’m glad that despite today’s experiences that at least some people understand the iPhone’s highly mobile nature.
Now what i’m really hoping is that these same developers who are making well thought out web applications for the iPhone realize that there are millions more Windows Mobile and S60 phones out there that can advantage of their hard work; and they expand their development to allow these millions of users to experience wonderfully designed applications as well. The one thing I was hoping the iPhone might do is get more people to develop truly well designed mobile web sites, instead of forcing us to use their unwieldy desktop sites or their ultra low bandwidth sites that fail to provide enough information.